An Excerpt from BIOGRAPHY OF A BODY by LIZZ SCHUMER

My body is a secret no one knows.

(Not even me.)

It reveals itself like a lover

And I wake beside it to sweet nothings in my ears,

my joints,

my skin.

Electrical currents dance like champagne bubbles, and it’s New Year’s Eve 2001. I’m wearing a black velvet dress with a forest of spangles and nude stockings, control-top because someone told me I was fat in kindergarten and I’ll never forget it. The velvet rubs against nylon, my hands rub against my sides, all of me rubs against all of me and the friction makes me real. A disco ball flashes off my gold-rimmed glasses, the lipstick my parents let me wear for the first time, as we all count down the minutes then hold our breath for the end of a world I didn’t know hadn’t even begun yet. We greet our new millennium in silence, the fear of dawn in our eyes where the light can’t touch it.

I’ll find the snapshot years later and time will jade me to my own insecurities. I won’t see that my chest was tight with the anxiety of change that has followed me ever since we filled the bathtub with water, stocked up on canned goods we sent to the food pantry in February, left flashlights by the door. My nerves wound tight that night and thrum in my body even now. They quiver like tuning forks to the rhythm of a world that opened wide when Y2K taught me my world was fragile and could end.

I will see gangly legs with too-round knees,

a baby belly constricted by pantyhose I didn’t need.

A skirt, growth-spurt short.

No tits.

Wide eyes.

Velvet on dry skin snags.

A microscope might catch the prickling needles

Tiny snares for clothing, eyes.

I rend my own garments unconsciously

Arriving at work with runs in my stockings.

I am not one of the manicured girls

Who arrive coiffed and ready for the day.

My nails are jagged, like my skin is.

My hair statics in the wind.

No one meets my eyes.

(Not even me.)

Do you remember your own birthday?

As a child, I swore I did.

I had heard the story so often it felt like reliving it.

Mom on the way to Disney World.

A cramp, a tiny kick, and

I was on my way out

Three months early.

I think I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to recover those months of rejected sanctuary, the safety I thrust myself out of before I knew what awaited me.

A little boy rides a red tricycle up and down the street.

His wheels squeak through closed windows

The crash doesn’t make the same sound.

It’s shrill, in a different way.

And his blood is a different red too

But no less shiny on the sidewalk.

He didn’t know his haste had consequences.

He had a mother to run home to, snot running down his face like blood from his knees when he learned sidewalks are hard and recklessness breeds pain, sometimes.

Adults break more often

But lack the solace children crave.

We need it too, I think.

I do.

My childhood is peppered with memories of pain.

An ultrasound with cold, blue jelly.

The nurse said it wouldn’t hurt,

That I needed a shot in my tummy,

The pain was like the opening sequence of Star Wars.

I didn’t cry.

I couldn’t piss on command.

The man said to pee on the table.

It’s ok.

There’s paper.

But I wasn’t raised in a barn, so

I went to the bathroom instead.

I lay on the table afterward.

Freshly evacuated,

My legs spread wide, like he said.

Bared.

He thrust the catheter in

(A white-hot light spreading from my secret place)

Didn’t tell me what he was doing

Just stuck it in me like that.

I cried, that time.

Mom took me out to breakfast afterward and didn’t make me go to school. I remember pancakes and syrup from a rinsed-out ketchup squirt bottle. A sticky Formica tabletop and swinging my legs beneath the bench. If she tried to explain what had happened, I don’t remember it. I do remember that I had the day off, although I wasn’t sick.

“Why?” was not a question I knew enough to ask.

Not yet.

The first time I had sex felt like that.

Push harder, I said.

I knew that pushing through pain is like breaking down a wall. It takes persistence and force. His body was a hammer, and I could feel my foundations cracking. Hairlines, at first. Then a splintering from my core, until I broke apart and red light streamed through me, a sort of aural exhale.

I still didn’t have the right questions and there weren’t any pancakes afterward. Just wine in bed and pillows that cradled our aftermath, the bodies we inhabited a different way. More light. I woke from a dream he died beside me. For one frantic moment, I felt that mingling of terror and relief when we think our worst, most secret fear came true.

Realized fears relieve me.

I don’t have to be afraid anymore.

Anticipation as prison.

Living presents so many different ways to be wrong.

Debts are forgiven, like sins are.

A friend used to apologize for everything anyone did.

I’m sorry

she said, in answer to questions. In preface of them.

I’m sorry to interrupt,

but

Sorry, could you?

Sorry, excuse me, I need something.

I am a person with needs.

We use words as extractions, pulling outcomes like teeth.

A dog bared his, an invitation.

Air rushed through his jowls as he roared waterfall.

His eyes made better contact than my lover’s do

when I ask him questions with words.

My teeth may garner better answers.

I panic a little, every time the telephone rings.

I like that word, the whole word. Tele sounds like progress.

It isn’t, but things aren’t always what they seem to be.

Perception, an individual art.

Our world is what we make it.

My parents’ house never changes, but my angle does.

The same bed has cradled me since childhood

but my feet reach the end now.

Eyes closed, my brain knows every article in that room.

It will forever, as familiar as my own skin.

More so; my bedroom never ages.

The house smells the same

no matter how many candles my mother burns.

For years, we had a chocolate lab named Bacchus, Greek god of wine and revelry. He reigned over our household like humans never could, greeted us at the door each evening, his otter tail thwacking our legs with forty lashes of excitement. His eyes were love drowning. But I disappointed him, each time. He’d lick my hand, nuzzle my crotch and slink away, waiting for his man. He wanted dad, his only master. The rest of us were littermates, dad explained when we first got him.

Dogs need authority, like children do.

We stood alongside each other in the family hierarchy,

except I got to pee indoors.

Bacchus died quickly, shortly after Christmas one year. We bought the wrong dog food, fed it to him three times. The stores were closed for holidays. A mold grew on the food, the FDA officials told us. A failure at the plant. Cross-contamination kidney failure and man’s best friend was gone. Three days of blood and piss and shit and lost eyes wandering in the parts of the house he had never been allowed to go. Three days of bewilderment at a body he couldn’t control.

We cried, dad most.

Sometimes, I still look for Bacchus when I come home from long trips away. He was so much a part of us that his smell lingers in the blankets, couch cushions, the bare spot of the rug where he lay. We impregnate our surroundings with scent until they become us.

I am the sights and smells that raised me as much as I am the ones I seek with my conscious body.

What constitutes a spirit, if not the viscera that mars us?

The wonderful, kick ass publisher in the Pac Northwest

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